1) The President is a role model and should be able to tap out 140 characters without debasing our political language.
2) Who cares?
Good news: There is room for both. To the latter point, Trump’s spelling foibles are almost always less interesting, or instructive, than our response to them. Back in 1992, former Vice President Dan Quayle, taking his cue from an incorrectly prepared index card, added an “e” to the end of a young student’s correct spelling of “potato.” Quayle quickly became — and, if you’re old enough, remains — a national punchline.
“It was more than a gaffe,” he wrote, still shaken, in a memoir a couple years later. ”It was a ‘defining moment’ of the worst imaginable kind. I can’t overstate how discouraging and exasperating the whole event was.” Quayle’s biggest mistake, though, was authoring his infamous flub in an era before the narrative was set and interpreted on the internet. His lampooning — the memes, GIFs, etc. — would have come in waves, but waves break and modern news cycles (even pre-Trump) rarely dwell so long or harshly on any particular “defining moment.” Today, Quayle would probably be fundraising off the error, offering supporters a chance to stick it to the Democrats by purchasing a $15 bag of “Potatoe” chips.
The ironic thing about Trump’s mishaps are his clear desire to erase them. Often literally. For someone who, as a matter of principle, is loath to admit even the smallest mistake, the President repeatedly deletes messy tweets and replaces them with copy-edited versions.
His Thursday morning anti-media rant followed the usual script. The first run confused “there” for “their” and “too” for “to.”
“The Fake News is now complaining about my different types of back to back speeches. Well, their was Afghanistan (somber), the big Rally….(enthusiastic, dynamic and fun) and the American Legion – V.A. (respectful and strong),” he wrote. “To bad the Dems have no one who can change tones!”
The first tweet was deleted once and fixed. It took three tries to get the second half down. If this sounds familiar, Trump kicked off a similar commotion this past weekend, when he repeatedly misspelled “heal” — as in reconcile or repair — as “heel,” like the back of your foot or, in wrestling slang, a villain. The subject matter then was a mass anti-racism demonstration in Boston. The first tweet read, before being erased: “Our great country has been divided for decade,but it will come together again. Sometimes protest is needed in order to heel,and heel we will!”
The next, soon to be scrubbed too: “Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heel, & we will heel, & be stronger than ever before!” Finally, more than a half-hour after it began, Trump delivered the message that still now appears in his feed: “Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!”The lapses haven’t been limited to Trump’s personal account. More official-looking documents have been marred by similar errors. Who can forget when the White House announced its plans to nominate former “Governor John Huntsman Jr. of Utah” to be the new ambassador to Russia? Probably not the staffer who typed up the release — Huntsman’s first name is spelled, “Jon.” No “h.”
And in what could well be among the most consequential tweets of his short presidency, Trump bumbled in accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of spying on his phone calls during the 2016 election. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process,” he tweeted, the second “p” in tap lingering uncannily like the “e” in Quayle’s “potatoe.”
Which brings us back to the first question. Is it wrong — Elitist! Daft! Hypocritical! — to harp on the President’s grammatical gaffes? Many activists opposed to the Trump agenda dismiss the shaming as a waste of time and, in some cases, counterproductive. Anti-intellectualism is part of Trump’s political brand, and a prolonged mass scolding on Twitter has a way of inflaming it. On the flip side, Trump’s apparent unwillingness to spell-check himself before dashing off an opinion or sharing some bit of information speaks to his personality and highlights his administration’s ramshackle communications process. Consider, at last, “covfefe.”
It was a little after midnight on May 31 when Trump posted what read like the beginning of a typical complaint about the media. “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” he tweeted. Insomniac Twitter feasted. Six hours later, the mystery word’s meme-ification complete, Trump returned to ask, in what read like a rare attempt at self-deprecation, “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!”
But, of course, we could not. There is no pleasure here. Not for long. That same afternoon, Sean Spicer, the now former White House press secretary, seemed to deny during a press briefing that there had been any typo at all.
“The President and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer said.
And yet, understanding never felt so far off.